The Band That Does It All, Does it Again.
20 years is a long time to do music, especially when you’re doing one of the most vocally demanding genres. 20 years is also a long time to redefine an entire genre of music while avoiding the pitfalls that many groups fall into while they experiment with new sounds. 20 years is how long Demon Hunter has been in “Exile” and while we’ve had glimpses of what post-band life might look like for the Metal Group, particularly the successful launch of the Graphic Novel “Exile” from which the album by the same name draws its name. The album Exile once again finds the balance between giving us something that Demon Hunter fans will love and something new. Like its predecessor, the double albums “War” and “Peace” the band has once again successfully steered the ship in yet another direction with the release of their first concept album.
Exile, like its graphic novel counterpart, takes place in a post-Armageddon world, Following the journey of those who succumb to the desolation of that world and showing us how empty and desperate such a world actually is. Demon Hunter has built a career on telling the truth about life, showing us in one breath Hope and Resistance while calling out those who offer alternatives to life. That being said, if you are looking for the message of hope that runs through most Demon Hunter albums, you will be hard pressed to find one here. Which is the point, Ryan Clark is showing us what a world without God, or where God is completely rejected, would look like and just how empty that would be. This godless world would be a loud, hopeless place, an abyss full of people crying out for some hope but finding that the vices of a godless society cannot and will not fill them up. The album is a warning as well as a reminder. Lived experience tells many of us that what is described on this album is also the experience of many of those we know and love who have either never come to the truth of the Gospel or who openly and vindictively reject it. An world that is primarily atheistic is a dead world.
The albums narrator is a believer, someone who is walking through this world, watching all this desperation. The opening song: “Defense Mechanism” lays out the narrators resolve to stand against this evil and desperate world. The narrator describes himself as “Rival hearted, spirit guarded” and acknowledges that the hope he has is because the social tension and dissension around him is what keeps his faith alive. He is face to face with the destruction of the world and his statement is one of resolve and resistance. He sees what is happening and he will not be a part of it. The rest of the album is speakers description of the world they are seeing.
The second song is the response of the world to the resistance of the story teller. “Why don’t you bleed like the rest of us, Drink from the well of the dead, follow the right or the left of us, Don’t you get into your head, You need a lesson in loyalty ” There is a price for not following the crowd, that price is exile. The bridge mocks the persons faith: “if all you want is just a master, we could be everything you need.” But the speaker knows the truth, God is enough. The world continues to breath threat, but the speaker knows the truth and will not back down and it continues to anger those who keep speaking. The song is the perfect set up for “Silence the World” in which the speaker seems to capitulate for a second, following the world into its abyss, but then recoils, finding it a terrible place to be. The question is one many younger Christians will identify with, how do we silence the world as it continues to dissolve further into discord? What is our defense mechanism against the constant attempt by the world to drag us down into the abyss? The answer calls us back to the albums opening track but also finds its answer in “Heaven Don’t Cry” in which the speaker restates his resolve to continue in faith knowing that one day they will no longer be in this dead world, but in the joy of heaven. The speaker also resolves to find others who believe, those who are also in exile and even take a few with them when they pass to eternity.
The album continues to follow these themes of emptiness and resistance as it tells the story of life in the post-apacalyptic, godless world. I said before Musically the album has something for fans new and old, sometimes even mixing the new with the old as in “Heaven Don’t Cry.” Songs like “Defense Mechanism” and “Godless” will harken the listener back to the days of albums like: The Triptych and even the bands self-titled debut in 2001. While songs like “Silence the World” and “Praise the Void” remind the listener of more recent ballad such as “Died in my Sleep” and “More Than Bones.” or even “I will Fail You.”
“Praise the Void” stands out as a particularly heavy and hard hitting track, probably one of the most sobering ballads the band, which is a master of the art of writing Ballads, has written. The Song takes us deeper into the emptiness of the world the band is describing. Centering on the Mantra “Everyone worships something.” the song begins with a statement of the hope we once all agreed on, the light we all once lived in, but deals with how the trials and pains of this world and how they choke faith and remove consensus. Since we are all worshiping creatures though a new consensus has been reached, since there is nothing to believe in, we must worship that nothingness, we must praise the Void. Musically this song may be one of the few marks against this album, as for the first few listens I found myself wishing for the acoustic version that was released a few years back on their resurrected Ballads album. Both styles have their advantages and disadvantages, the acoustic version feels darker and sets a deeper mood than I feel like the album version does. The 80’s sounding keys feel out of place as the speaker talks about the emptiness of the worshippers. Overall it does remove some of the punch of the song.
It’s hard to believe that after 20 years Demon Hunter can still make the kind of music that is bound to keep them at the top of the charts and headlining tours. It is hard to maintain a career like that, but somehow Ryan Clark and company have managed to do just that with their latest studio album Exile. And while it may not be the bands best outing, it certainly adds to an already long list of excellent work from the band that, if you listen to their podcast, happened almost by accident.